1. Historic buildings are important to the cultural fabric of any city
Take a stroll down the streets of any major city, and you’re bound to come across historic buildings. Some become tourist attractions in their own right, such as the Painted Ladies, the iconic Victorian and Edwardian homes that line the street across from Alamo Square in San Francisco, or the 19th-century tenement buildings on New York’s Lower East Side, which are now part of a museum that millions visit each year. Historic buildings are important to the cultural fabric of any city, and it’s not simply because they are aesthetically appealing, even though this is an important reason these buildings are worth preserving.
Architectural preservation holds value for cultural, historical, economic, and even environmental reasons
Architectural preservation holds value for cultural, historical, economic, and even environmental reasons, providing clear benefits to the city and the people who live and work there.
Amsterdam, Egypt, Athens, London, Rome, Paris, Tokyo – these are some of the most visited cities in the world, and it’s easy to see why. These cities have deep historical roots that guide their cultural identity. The wonderment of the historic buildings and structures is noticeable and attracts millions of visitors per year. The same feeling of awe that these cities have can be found in many major American cities as well.
Portland and much of the West coast has a uniquely storied history… if we insist on tearing down historic buildings because they don’t provide enough income we will lose our sense of cultural identity.
Portland and much of the West coast has a uniquely storied history that can still be reflected today, but if we insist on tearing down historic buildings because they don’t provide enough income we will lose our sense of cultural identity. The Northwest’s urban architectural beginnings date from the mid-1800s, and precious few of the structures built during that time are still left standing today. The oldest surviving structure in Portland, the Hallock-McMillan building, was built in 1857 and is now in the process of historic restoration. Some notable Portland homes that were built in the 1800s have been successfully preserved, such as the Pittock Mansion, or the in-progress Morris Marks house. Yet for each place saved, there have been even more places demolished, and there is much work to do.
2. Old buildings hold more economic value
In her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs argues that businesses such as offices, coffee shops, restaurants, and others are attracted to older buildings, young people want to live in areas with old buildings, and that maintaining old buildings creates more jobs than building new ones. It is generally more expensive to revitalize an old brick façade, and it takes many more specialized construction positions to bring an old building back to life than to put up a cheaper new building. The need for specialized personnel, the influx of new businesses, and the increase of homes purchased in areas with older buildings means that for the owner it might not directly make them as much money to own and operate an old building, but it helps the local economy as a whole.
3. It’s better for the environment to maintain and update an old building
It is considerably more environmentally friendly to maintain and update an old building than to tear it down and build a new one. Adding insulation, wooden insulated windows, wooden doors, and a newer roof means that modern energy performance can be achieved while retaining the historic fabric of the building. Wooden windows and doors insulate better and last much longer than the metal and vinyl windows commonly found in new buildings. Not only is repurposing old buildings intrinsically motivating, but it makes good environmental sense.
There are very clear environmental, economic, cultural, and historical reasons why we should preserve old buildings instead of demolishing them, and yet it feels like more historic buildings are under threat than ever before. The boom of people to Portland is giving landowners reason to sell their property to make way for new apartment complexes. We need everyone’s help in spreading awareness if we’re going to help preserve our historic urban landscape. Supporting companies and organizations that advocate for historic preservation is a significant way to fight the demolition problem that we’re facing. We at Versatile are proud to be a resource for historic preservation and supporters of Restore Oregon and the Architectural Heritage Center.
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